It’s no secret by now that Saturday at 12:01 am, Facebook will begin issuing custom usernames & urls for individuals and businesses. This landrush will surely tax the Facebook servers as tens of thousands of people try to register “credit cards,” “work from home” and various pharmaceutical product names. Facebook custom URL parties are starting to crop up on Twitter and I recommend that you attend one, it would be fun!
First, all of this is subject to change based on Facebook’s clarifications, psychic predictions, new understandings and more. I will try to update this post if so.
If you’re an individual, and you created your Facebook account before June 9 at 3:00 PM ET, then yes, you should get your personal name registered as a custom URL. This listing is likely to rank for your name in Google and other search engines, whether or not you own it. If you’re concerned about privacy and search-ability of your name, remember that Facebook offers quite a few profile privacy features – but – it’s still unclear how or if the URL will still show up in major search engines.
- If your name is “John Smith” you should be there at 12:01 AM Saturday “Facebook Time” with your best clicking fingers ready. It’s going to be a madhouse. If your name is more obscure, you can probably grab it with your Saturday morning coffee and be okay.
- If you created your Facebook account after June 9th, you may have to wait until later. I still recommend trying Saturday morning… who knows? It might just work.
- Facebook is saying that only alphanumeric characters, numbers and periods are allowed, so no dashes or underscores.
- Don’t spell it wrong, or you’re toast.
- Don’t plan on selling it later. They have a strict non-transferability policy and Facebook already closes accounts they suspect have been bought/sold.
- Did someone get your favored URL? Here’s a backup plan. If you’re not really worried about SEO, just register a domain name you like and set up a nice subdomain for it. E.g. http://facebook.yourname.com, and forward that to your facebook page, even if you had to use your middle name or some other compromise. That will work nicely on your business card, etc.
- If you plan on getting married, you have some thinking to do. Facebook has said that they will NOT change the name later. So I can’t advise on this.
Companies or Brands
If you’re a business with a Facebook page:
If you own a trademark for your brand, you have several options.
- First, I recommend you chat with an attorney who knows your business. There are many subtleties that I cannot predict.
- You probably want to go ahead and block anyone else from using your brand. Facebook has a form for this. However, It is unclear what effect filing this form has on your use of the Facebook URL by the same name later on. It’s likely you’ll be fine, but Facebook has not clarified this yet.
- If you find that someone else has grabbed your trademark, then Facebook has a form for filing an Intellectual Property Infringement. You definitely should talk to an attorney before filing this form.
- If your business depends on keywords other than your brand name to survive, you may want to get a bit fancy here. If you had a page before May 31, 2009 with at least 1000 fans, you may want to get your keyword based URL for SEO purposes instead of your trademark anyway, and lean on trademark law to protect you if someone else tries to get your name. Again, speed dial the attorney here as this idea is a bit complex. Here goes: If the primary keywords for your site are not “generic keywords” as defined by Facebook and you can get away with it, you may want to focus on the top keyword for your business during the landrush. Then, later, register your brand name on a new Facebook page. For example, if you sell “home oxygen supplies” than having the URL http://www.facebook.com/homeoxygensupplies could be a real win from an SEO point of view, since facebook pages tend to rank well, even if your trademarked brand name is “ABC, Inc.” They’ve already said that a word like “pizza” is out of the question.Do consider the effect this might have on your 1000+ fans perception of your company when they search for you and find your company later.Also consider that the SEO benefits of the URL may change over time and this whole effort could be wasted. In SEOMoz’s recent “ranking factors” survey, keyword use in Page URL ranked a “Moderate Importance” from the experts they polled. Facebook.com has a lot of domain strength as well from factors such as age of site, global link popularity of facebook.com, etc.
If you don’t own a trademark, or want to try for a keyword-based URL, then read on.
- So, did you have a Facebook page before May 31, 2009 with at least 1,000 Fans*? If so, you’re golden. You can participate Saturday. If not, you may want to still try, but don’t be surprised if you get blocked upon your attempt. Good luck.
- Facebook also says they want the username to be something close to your brand. This is vague, but they also reserve the right to “pull” the name anytime if they don’t like it. You could end up with nothing if they get fussy about it.
- Generic keywords, like “travel” aren’t going to work. But “travel.mexico” might.
Other Issues and Questions
Can’t Google/Bing/Yahoo just make the SEO benefits of a Facebook URL moot?
I don’t want to make it seem like the Facebook URL is more important than it truly is. Google or the others can decide that it wants to subdue listings of Facebook urls (perhaps to increase importance of Google Profiles) anytime it wants. I call these “tidal” influences – as in, the tide “lifts or drops” everyone in the sea. Search engines have unprecedented power to just discount the entire name, like geocities or typepad.com with one command. That being said, I think there is a very good chance that Facebook URLs will will rank well in search engine results pages on many search engine, especially for individual’s names. Last year, AJ Vaynerchuk posted on shoemoney.com that Twitter outranked Facebook 90% of the time, but I did a rough test and found that many facebook pages had increased since then.. Owning the social media profiles for your name is still important since social media marketing becomes the first impression of your brand more often all the time. A Facebook page and URL are not a good substitute for great content, SEO and linkbuilding on your own domain name and hosting.
What are the SEO Benefits of the Name?
First, as I said, Facebook pages tend to rank very well in Google search and so will likely have some SEO value. The resulting URL from a custom Facebook URL will likely be a top 10 listing when a customer does a search for your name or brand, and Yahoo even integrates Facebook directly into its SERPs. While less clear, it seems to me that non-generic, competitive keywords will make good custom URLs also. It’s going to be interesting to see how they filter them. The best idea is to have a list of your favored names ready after doing some keyword research and a bit of thinking this week.
Do Customers Care about this?
All customers know is that it’s easy to find you to get products or services or to get issues solved. This strengthens your brand. Cone Research found that Americans expect companies to have a presence in social media. So it stands to reason that making it easy to find you is good for customers.
Do Employers Care about this?
It stands to reason that potential employees look like “they have it together” if their social media participation is done with sophistication. Of course this entirely depends on how you conduct yourself. Making it “easy” to find your Spring Break pictures may not be a good thing, so know how to control your privacy online and use common sense.
Facebook Pages have Risks, Too.
If you have a reputation management issue, this could be a great win. While there are many ways to push negative listings off the page, this one may be very low hanging fruit for the purpose. That being said, any facebook page has risks on its own, such as negative wall posts, discussions and “friends” with brand-disruptive usernames. Furthermore, it is entirely unclear what Facebook plans for the future of any of its properties. In addition facebook custom URL pages can increase privacy concerns for individuals, but that is for you to investigate further.
Should I also register defensive brand patterns, such as “facebook.com/companynamesucks”
Sticky sticky issues. The open questions here are
a) how will Facebook handle satire, parody, criticism, news gathering and social commentary pages?
b) will Facebook allow pages to be omitted from the search engines completely?
Individuals will be able to register anti-company pages. There are a lot of sticky first amendment rights issues here. With clients, I register around 20-25 defensive patterns for domain names. It should be said, nowever, that there are far more possible patterns than you can possibly register in reality (facebook.com/yourcompanysucks and facebook.com/yourcompany.sucks are both bad.) A pretty interesting discussion on these rights can be found here and here.
Even though these types of names will mostly be of concern after the initial land rush, keep in mind that the profiles/pages for such defensive patterns will actually exist on the Internet, and there is a very good chance of them ranking for your name, even if they are empty. In other words, it would be very feasible for http://www.facebook.com/companynamesucks to be #3 or #4 in Google – no matter what content exists on the profile! If you have a strong risk of a negative page being posted, an empty page may be better than one created by the disgruntled customer. But you will need to turn to other Online Reputation Management approaches to push those blank pages off the serch results.
The second landrush will happen Sunday, June 28, 2009.
Your custom Facebook URL is not going to bring you Internet stardom. You need to engage visitors on facebook and be a valued part of the community – we all know that “after the click” is important also. But combining that engagement and positive vibe with a strong, positive ranking in the SERPs is a sure win for anyone or any brand. I wish everyone luck with their URL.
Touchgraph photo by Steve Jurvetson and used under creative commons license
*Requirement of 1000 Fans: In my opinion, this policy really sucks. A small business with 400, 500 or 800 fans has a strong following, and should be allowed to protect that on Facebook. The limit should be far lower or not existent. Allowing a company just getting started on Social Media to get a URL should be possible.